Intellectual Property and Sustainable Development Goals: Fuelling Global Progress

In a world facing significant challenges, the importance of human creativity and innovation cannot be overstated. As highlighted by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we need to find solutions to problems ranging from climate change and diminishing natural resources to widespread inequality and health crises. We need “to re-think how we live, work and play.” This World Intellectual Property (IP) Day, we join WIPO in considering the crucial role of IP in driving positive change.


Sustainable Development Goals

The concept of sustainable development has profoundly influenced global policy from the late 20th century onwards. Defined in the Brundtland Report of 1987 as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” this principle has guided significant international dialogues and agreements. The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, more widely known as the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, was a seminal event that operationalised sustainability into global commitments. This included Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, along with initiating key treaties like the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These documents began to explicitly integrate IP rights into the broader narrative on environmental and developmental policies.

There are 17 SDGs, which are considered a blueprint for achieving peace and prosperity for people and the planet. As the challenges we face are interrelated, so are the SDGs, with actions and solutions in one area affecting outcomes in others.  You can read more about the SDGs here:

IP rights are foundational to the success of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), serving as vital enablers of innovation and technology transfer. Recognised during the Earth Summit, IP rights drive investment in research and development, facilitating the deployment of environmentally sound technologies—essential for achieving SDGs related to clean energy, health, and sustainable cities to name a few. A recent WIPO report highlights the critical role of IP in sustainable development, showing that almost one-third of patents worldwide are related to the SDGs. The report, which assesses over 15 million active patent families, explores the distribution of different SDGs in global patenting activity, examines trends in sustainable technologies and identifies key innovators in the domain of sustainable innovation. For more detailed insights, you can access the full report here:


Specific Intellectual Property Tools and Their Contribution to SDGs

Patents are central to fostering an environment conducive to technological innovation and economic competitiveness. These protections are crucial for the progress of SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure), facilitating the development of new and efficient technologies that strengthen infrastructure and industrialisation, particularly in developing economies. Additionally, patents have a significant influence on SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being) by motivating the pharmaceutical sector to engage in the extensive and costly research required to bring new medical treatments and drugs to market. This not only accelerates the availability of cutting-edge healthcare solutions but also enhances global health security.

Copyrights helps to protect the original works of authors, artists and creators, thereby fostering creativity and diversity in cultural expressions. This form of IP is closely linked to SDG 4 (Quality Education) as it secures educational materials and literary works, thus promoting access to quality education through the protection and dissemination of educational content. Copyright also bolsters SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) by preserving cultural heritage and supporting the creative industries, which are crucial for the socio-economic development of communities.

Design rights protect the aesthetic elements of products, encouraging creativity in industrial design which is pivotal to SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production). By securing these rights, designers and companies are inspired to innovate in ways that optimise resource use and enhance the functional efficiency of products, aligning with the goals of sustainable consumption patterns. Furthermore, design rights contribute to the economic viability of creative sectors, fostering job creation and promoting sustainable industrialisation.

Trade secrets and trade marks, though less discussed, also play significant roles. Trade secrets allow businesses to protect undisclosed information that can provide a competitive edge, crucial for fostering innovation under SDG 9.

Trade marks support SDG 12 by enabling consumers to make informed choices through the assurance of quality and sustainability practices associated with branded products. The use of certification trade marks and collective trade marks can be particularly valuable to allow consumers to make choices about the products and services they purchase by informing the consumer about certain standards related to SDGs. As an example, the Fairtrade certification gives consumers confidence that products bearing the mark are fairly produced and traded and that the manufacturers are making efforts to support SDGs 11 and 12

The careful management of IP tools is essential to foster innovation while ensuring these advancements remain accessible where most needed. Intellectual property rights, when strategically deployed, can drive progress towards all of the Sustainable Development Goals. By securing the rights of creators and inventors, these tools provide incentives for ongoing investment into new solutions that address some of the most pressing global challenges.

Furthermore, aligning IP policies with sustainable development objectives should support not only the protection of intellectual property but also ensure that such innovations contribute effectively to societal goals. The integration of IP rights with strategies aimed at achieving the SDGs highlights the potential of IP to enhance global well-being, demonstrating the positive synergy between protecting creators’ rights and advancing public interest.


Over the next few weeks, we will be publishing a series of articles and interviews exploring the theme of this year’s World IP Day by reviewing some of the SDGs in greater depth. We hope you enjoy learning more about IP and its role in ‘Building our common future with innovation and creativity.’

If you have any queries regarding this topic, or would like assistance creating or implementing an IP strategy, please contact our team.

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